Positive Self-Delusion

When deluding yourself can be a good thing…


In Spain we have a saying, “Piensa mal y acertaras”, which roughly translates as “think the worst and you won’t be far from wrong”. This nugget of Spanish wisdom is probably a shield against a culture of espabilado, and it may be useful on occasion to take this approach, but someone who is always “pensando mal” will rarely ever be happy.

Malpensado is another Spanish word that doesn’t have a very good translation in English. When you look online the translation I found is evil-minded, but that’s totally wrong, being malpensado doesn’t mean that you are concocting evil schemes in your head, it means you always think the worst of everyone and every situation.

I am not writing this post because I am an exemplary model of someone who always thinks positive of other’s intentions. I am writing this to remind myself that I often fall victim of my upbringing and I think the worst of other people’s motives and actions.

The crazy thing is that I actually believe that malpensados are right more often than stupidly optimistic people; if you gather a few clues about someone’s behaviour and correlate it with their actions, chances are that you may be right when you think ill.

The problem is that often being right about something you have no control of serves zero purpose to your life other than making you bitter and resentful, it also drives people away from you. So in that sense, your overly optimistic and self-deluded friends are living a much happier life than you are, with few of the drawbacks.

One example I can think of is how I used to feel when people didn’t reply to texts, I would become malpensado and read too much into it. Sometimes I would take it personally, sometimes I would feel paranoid that being the honest joker I am I said something offensive, or I would just feel the other person was rude or not dependable.

The point is that thinking all of those things didn’t help me at all. Even if I was right, what did I gain from feeling upset about whether someone else texted back or not? What was the gain? To pat myself in the back later and say “See I told you? You are so smart for figuring it out!”

Whereas by thinking positively and being wrong, in those cases I may have lived a happier, less bitter life.

So here is something I want to jot down and share with you that I hope I don’t forget:

If both positive and negative interpretations of a situation you have no control of have the same practical outcome, then always chose the positive one. Even if the negative is more likely to be true.

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